Energy deficiency is probably best measured in adults by the body mass index (BMI). Acute energy deficiency (AED) is associated with body weight loss, along with changes in body composition, as well as a reduced BMR and physical activity. Chronic energy deficiency (CED) is an inadequacy in food to which individuals adapt, at some cost. Individuals with this have never ‘lost’ weight: they have simply grown less. They adapt to the decreased food energy by reductions in their total energy expenditure (TEE), linked mainly to a lower body size, and to their physical activity. It seems unlikely that enhanced metabolic efficiency contributes substantially to energy saving in CED. Supplementation of energy deficient individuals is accompanied by significant fat deposition; this may have deleterious consequences.
Women in many developing countries achieve a successful outcome to pregnancy in spite of being chronically undernourished. Reductions in basal metabolism and behavioural changes in the form of diminished physical activity could meet most of the extra energy needed for pregnancy. Milk energy output is maintained within the expected range in undernourished lactating mothers. Energy deficiency in children is best measured by height-for-age for stunting, and weight-for-height for wasting. Deficits in behavioural and functional parameters in children exist with undernutrition, and can be reduced by early nutritional supplementation along with the appropriate environment.